Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some film versions of Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth. Or at least the 1972 Laurence Olivier-Michael Caine Sleuth and the 2007 Michael Caine-Jude Law Sleuth, with 1982’s Deathtrap (Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve) sandwiched in-between. Deathtrap is actually based on Ira Levin’s play, but it also clearly derives from Sleuth, and may even be closer to Shaffer’s play than the 2007 movie, which was written by Harold Pinter.
At the gym I go to the locker rooms (remember them?) are on the main floor, with a rather grand staircase leading up to the equipment and program rooms. During the winter months there’s a sign placed at the bottom of these stairs asking members to not go past that point wearing winter boots or outside shoes. You can’t miss the sign. You have to walk around it to go up the stairs.
Even if you didn’t read the sign, the effects of people not taking off their boots is evident. The stairs are often dirty and wet, and they have to put up signs warning how slippery the steps are. Upstairs, the carpeting is being ruined with all the salt brought in. The janitorial staff also have to mop the steps down several times every day because they are such a mess.
I spoke to one of the janitors on this detail the other day and mentioned how surprised I was that people didn’t take off their outdoor shoes before coming upstairs. He said that “Sadly (yes! he said ‘sadly’!) most people don’t read the sign.”
I don’t think that’s true. I think everyone knows the sign is there and what it says. And like I say, it’s obvious the mess they’re making. They just ignore it. In this they are following what I’ve described before as the essence of rude behaviour: a sense of privilege and entitlement that tells them that rules don’t apply to them. Such people are, in the favourite diagnosis of our age, narcissists. Or assholes. What this leads to is, as usual, a mess for someone else to clean up.
Over at the Literary Review of Canada website you can read my review of John Semley’s Hater: On the Vitrues of Utter Disagreeability.
I wasn’t sure when I started my movie blog that I’d get to 1,000 posts. Then for a while I imagined I might try to do a special film to mark the occasion. Citizen Kane. Casablanca. Vertigo. Something like that.
One thing I’ve found as I’ve gone on, however, is that doing commentaries on those movies is nearly impossible. This is, in part, because so much (really, everything) has already been said about them. Just in jotting down some personal impressions and reflections, which is all I do at Alex on Film, would require too much work. I do listen to commentaries when available. I do try to read up on some of the basic background and criticism that’s out there. But the field has become so overgrown in many cases that the volume of it is self-defeating.
Who can hope to read everything that’s been written on Psycho? Who would want to tackle Blade Runner? These movies have millions of words dissecting their every frame in print, with millions more online. Nobody can read all of it. And what do you do when the DVDs for not-quite-great films like Fight Club or Hostel come with four full-length audio commentaries each?
I think this is the reason you find so many movie blogs talking about really obscure titles that almost nobody has seen. Critics want to feel like they have some elbow room, or aren’t just reinventing the wheel. What’s interesting is that the same attitude doesn’t seem to apply to fiction. A book that doesn’t find an audience, critical or otherwise, is just ignored. Nobody wants to go near it. Even if it’s a great book that somehow got overlooked. But even the dreariest exploitation flick from the 1960s seems to be able to find an audience today online. I’m not sure why that is.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some movies loosely (very loosely) based on the Old English poem Beowulf. I’m not sure what the attraction for filmmakers is, since despite having lots of classic fantasy elements (a powerful hero, a witch, a monster), the story is kind of bare bones. As a result, these movies indulge in a lot of freestyle reinterpretation. Some of it works, some doesn’t.
Despite its reputation as a box office bomb, which may not be wholly deserved, The 13th Warrior (1999) is actually pretty good. Beowulf & Grendel (2005) only has a few moments set amidst some nice scenery. Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (2007) has dated so badly in only ten years that it’s unwatchable.
Over at Alex on Film I’ve posted my picks in various categories for the best (and worst) in 2018 movies. What makes my year-end wrap-up different from other end-of-the-year lists is the fact that I only saw thirteen new (that is, released in 2018) movies in 2018. So I didn’t have a lot to choose from! That made things a bit difficult, But if nothing else, the nominees aren’t all the usual suspects.
Whenever I see an end-of-year list of best books (or movies, or songs, or whatever) I always think about how small a sample size any individual list-maker can hope to draw on. I read a fair number of new releases every year, but even so my own list of the best has to be drawn from a pretty narrow number of choices. That said, here are my favourite books of 2018 in three categories.
Best fiction: This is where I really fell down this year. I didn’t read that many new novels and short story collections in 2018. But of those I read I liked Iain Reid’s Foe the best. It’s a page-turner that forces you to reflect on what makes us what we are.
Best non-fiction: Looking over all of the non-fiction books I read this past year it’s amazing how dominated the list was by Trump. So just to be different, I’ll say Adam Zamoyski’s Napoleon. It’s a good read and does an admirable job of summing up a complex man’s incredible life in a single volume.
Best SF: There were a lot of choices here – even leaving out Foe, which was an SF novel too. On my short list I’d have The Body Library by Jeff Noon (not really SF, but weird), 84K by Claire North, and The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell. But I think I’ll vote for The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty. It’s an epic SF robot opera set in a remarkable new world where humans and independent machines are fighting to get along. Great stuff.